Back in December 2019, ahead of the encounter against Hyderabad FC, Mumbai City FC were dealt a severe blow when Paulo Machado was ruled out for the remainder of the season. Prior to that, the Islanders had just started generating a head of steam, especially after twin away triumphs at Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC.
However, courtesy the injury, Mumbai stared at the prospect of entering the home stretch of their campaign without their midfield lynchpin, a fact emphasised by the Portuguese’s colossal displays since his introduction to the league. Unsurprisingly, several expected the Islanders to wilt under the pressure of injuries, considering they’d endured their fair share even before Machado limped off.
Yet, akin to the Mumbai City FC spirit, they dug deep into their reserves and unfurled Sourav Das, an unheralded Indian who was primed to play a pivotal role but had been reduced to one on the periphery, owing to a niggle at the start of the term.
Against Hyderabad FC though, the midfielder seamlessly slotted into the side. In fact, he took to Jorge Costa’s high-energy brand of football like a duck to water and subsequently, quelled the Islanders’ fears.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Sourav opened up on how he handled the expectations of deputising for Machado. He said,
My preparation for every match remains the same. I try to not change things for specific games. I believe pressure is of two kinds, positive and negative. If you take that pressure positively, you won’t face problems.
Since that contest against Hyderabad, the midfielder has formed a seemingly indomitable partnership with Rowllin Borges, another Indian who seems to be cut out from the same cloth as Sourav. On being quizzed about the partnership the pair enjoys, he said,
We know our roles well and I get on nicely with Rowllin bhai. We are comfortable playing alongside each other and we did so even in pre-season. There are times when he attacks and I stay back and other times the roles are reversed. I thoroughly enjoy the partnership.
Moreover, Sourav chatted about how players needed to get used to the demands the coach placed on them, especially if they were to realise whatever potential they boasted.
To put things into perspective, the Indian also revealed that he might not have been a tough-tackling midfielder altogether had his position not been tweaked during his stint at the Tata Football Academy.
When I started off young, I was a wing-half. Then, I gradually moved to attacking midfield and I was converted into a defensive midfielder when a foreign coach arrived at the Tata Football Academy. But, now I can say that this is my best position. I also believe that only after 18-19 years of age, you start learning the nuances of specific positions as you play very naturally before that.
However, akin to countless Indian footballers, Sourav’s journey to the highest echelon of the sport wasn’t devoid of obstacles. During his formative years, the former Mohun Bagan star was often scolded for not preferring studies over football. He also narrated that there were situations where his parents used to throw his boots away and he brought them back. He elaborated,
It was only when I made it to the Tata Football Academy that my parents said, ‘okay this boy must be really good’. After that, they’ve supported me all the way and I’m glad that I’ve been able to make them feel proud. As for me, I don’t think I have achieved much. I still have a long way to go.
Consequently, one was led into believing that one was conversing with a seasoned campaigner and one that had seen the myriad crests and troughs of life. However, Sourav, despite being only 23, seems to have embraced those aspects exceptionally, quipping that a bit of trouble prepares you for tougher challenges.
When I went to Mohun Bagan, I didn’t play a lot during my first two seasons. But, I kept practising and kept working on my game before I got my break last season. And, how I handled those circumstances then have aided me at Mumbai City FC.
Additionally, he jokingly chirped about how being on the fringes for much of his time at Mohun Bagan kept him in better stead, meaning that he learnt to keep himself isolated from ancillary aspects such as being benched or indeed, thinking too much about the same.
Unsurprisingly, one couldn’t help but delve deeper into the midfielder’s spell at Mohun Bagan and bring up the inevitable question about the derby between the former and East Bengal.
When asked about which current rivalry in the ISL embodied a comparable mixture of drama, tension and skill, Sourav swiftly replied,
In the ISL, I feel that kind of rivalry with Bengaluru FC. In those games, everybody just doesn’t want to give the opposition an inch. The bench, the players, they are all up for the fight and we like to get the better of them on each occasion.
However, despite the needle between Bengaluru FC and Mumbai, Sourav stressed that it was vital that the side treated each game similarly, with that sequence continuing against Jamshedpur on the 6th of February 2020.
Day after, we have an important match against Jamshedpur and I am not thinking too far ahead. I want to take it one game at a time and hopefully, we can win and take away three points to Goa.
Thus, across a rather lucid conversation, Sourav had highlighted the elements that had served him brilliantly in 2019-20. While he mentioned that his tenure at Mohun Bagan helped him come to grips with the contingencies of being a professional footballer, he underlined that there were still plenty of miles he needed to traverse to fulfil the goals he had set out for himself.
As for Mumbai, they would be overjoyed that their Machado-shaped void has been filled by someone equally determined and one itching to carve his own niche in Indian football. Despite being cast as the illustrious Portuguese’s replacement, Sourav wouldn’t be dwelling on it too much and would rather feed off it to chart his own unprecedented trajectory.
After all, pressure is something that one must use positively to optimise one’s own performances, isn’t it?
Published 04 Feb 2020, 16:24 IST